Planning my planting for 2017

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I love allotments.  I love those productive shanty towns that you often see at the side of housing estates, edging railway lines, or just beyond the local sewage works.  I relish the make-do-and-mend of gardeners’ huts fashioned from lengths-of-wood-and-bits-and-bobs, set alongside neat little cabins bought from B&Q.  I enjoy contrasting planting styles.  Here – neat meticulous rows of cabbages, beets, carrots and potatoes: there – less organised plots with discarded tyres serving as planters for courgettes and beans set among a hotchpotch of gooseberry and redcurrant bushes.  I love the camaraderie of the allotment community – the willingness to share hard-earned knowledge, tips, seeds, cuttings, and even muscle-power.  So much more fun that a solitary afternoon battling with weeds.

In Harrogate, I had an allotment.  I was the disorganised type, always running from behind, because work and family life got in the way.  In France, our vegetable garden was too far away to get the attention it deserved.  Here in North Stainley, there are no allotments …..

….. until now.

A few years ago, some villagers decided to initiate an allotment project.  They worked hard, but progress was slow.  Surrounded by countryside, even identifying a suitable site proved difficult.

I heard about the plans and asked to become involved just as the group reached a turning point.  The local landowner has offered to rent out a plot large enough for ten full-sized allotments.  An allotment is ten poles (or rods or perches) large.  That’s the size of a doubles tennis court.  We reckon most people will be happy with a half plot.  Twenty allotments then.

Our allotments-to-be.
Our allotments-to-be.

So last Saturday we went to look at the land.  It’s a large chunk at the end of a productive field, and it’s currently rather wet, like just about every other field in England.  Promising though.

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Then we went along to neighbouring Boroughbridge, where they’ve had an Allotments Society for the last 6 years or so.  They were friendly and generous with their time.  So much to think about though.  Paying for water to be piped to the site.  Thinking about car-parking and access to individual plots.  Keeping pesky rabbits at bay.  What to do with allotment tenants who grow only weeds.  Establishing a fair rent and knowing what that rent has to pay for.  We’ll be lucky to be up and running for next winter.  There’ll certainly be no planting before 2017…

Six years ago, this was a field as unpromising as ours. There's hope, then.
Six years ago, this was a field as unpromising as ours. There’s hope, then.

 

 

The non-newsworthy walk

The story is – there is no story to tell about our walk near East Witton.

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It was cold, frosty but bright so we stepped out energetically.  The day went on to be warm, breezy and sunny.  There was only one stile to climb over.  The ground was firm and frosty, but neither icy nor muddy.  Nobody slipped or fell over or got injured.

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The landscape was just right.  The gently undulating farmland of the Yorkshire Dales gave way to moorland whose picturesque bleakness was enhanced by the occasional lonely tree. We’d pause to take in the long-distance views across the Dales.  And as we returned through woodland to East Witton once more, there was a proper English parish church just asking to be photographed.  Nobody was displeased by the views.

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Our two pauses were ideal.  Mid morning, we had picture-postcard moorland views in front of us, and  the solid protection of a sturdy drystone wall behind.  We ate our lunchtime sandwiches in sheltered bosky woodland, with convenient benches in the form of tree trunks.  Nobody got cold, or wet, or lost their sandwiches.

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The energetic uphill stretches were all before lunch.  Our path afterwards returned us gently to the valley floor. So we got back to base after a gently-challenging workout.  Nobody was exhausted or fed up.

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So there’s nothing at all to tell you.

Oh hang on.  This will have to serve as our banner news headline.  ‘Hiker loses gloves on Wensleydale walk’.  That was me.  First one glove vanished, then the other.  But as anyone who knows me will tell you, this is not news at all.  It’s what I do most weeks during the winter.

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A day beside the seaside

You’ll know that we waved ‘Goodbye’ to Emily this week.  She’s arrived in South Korea,  jet-lagged and exhausted, but not so much that she can’t send snippets of up-beat information about her new life as Emily-in-Busan.

While she was with us, Emily-in-Barcelona briefly became Emily-in-London, Emily-in-Bolton, and Emily-in-Yorkshire. And while she was with us, Boyfriend-from-Barcelona came to visit.  What should we show someone from a vibrantly busy city, one of whose attractions is several kilometres of golden, sunny, sandy beaches?  Well, on a frosty, gusty February day, with more than a threat of snow in the air, what could be better than a day beside the seaside?

Whitby: the view anyone who's been there would recognise.
Whitby: the view anyone who’s been there would recognise.

Whitby seemed to fit the bill.  Picturesque fishermen’s cottages huddled round the quay.  A clutter of narrow cobbled shopping lanes – a tourist mecca to rival Las Ramblas.  A sandy beach with donkey-rides, and the chance to find fossil remains etched into the cliffs or a morsel of jet washing about on the sands.  A ruined Benedictine Abbey high above the town, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, and the focus of a twice-yearly Goth music festival.  And fish and chips.  Always fish and chips at an English seaside destination.  Emily and Miquel explored the lot.

And Miquel, windblown and chilled to his fingertips, declared that it had been a fine day out, with the added bonus of being firmly inside the car when we journeyed home across the North York Moors as the snow began to fall.

Best to be back in the car when the weather's like this.
Best to be back in the car when the weather’s like this.

From Jervaulx to Jervaulx – in the mud

 

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I first walked from Jervaulx to Jervaulx last April, and wrote about it here.  However, I failed to lead my fellow ramblers along the same route later that month as I’d said I would, because it rained…. and rained.  I’d promised them the walk though, and today was the day: bright, sunny, blustery – a perfect winter hike.  Except for one thing.  Those floods that have dominated British news this winter are still making their presence felt.

The ruins of Jervaulx.
The ruins of Jervaulx.

Our route today didn’t take us through pastureland.  Sheep aren’t very good at being knee-deep in mud. It took us through soggy fields, and past lake after lake after lake: waters that simply were not there last time I took this route.  It was all very pretty.  Less pretty was the scene at stiles.  Look at us skidding and sliding, trying to pick the shallower puddles as we waited out turn to get from one field to another.

We’re British though, always plucky in adversity.  We soldiered on, sometimes a little weary of heaving mud-crusted boots along sticky, sludgy paths.  But nobody fell over, nobody lost their sandwiches in the mud.  Everybody enjoyed those vistas over the Dales, the starkly beautiful skeletal outlines of winter trees, the blue skies, dappled with characterful cloud.  Were we glad to have made the effort?  Well, I was, and I think my steadfast and dependable companions were too.

Let Nature take its course

Step out into the garden, and the countryside beyond at the moment, and you’ll find snowdrops doing what they do best in January – piercing the barren earth, colonising grassy patches, nestling under trees and marching across gladed hillsides.  Untroubled by unseasonal weather, their inner clocks direct them to grow, multiply, and cheer us all up in an otherwise gloomy, un-festive sort of month.  That’s Nature for you: ordered, seasonal and predictable.

A farmer's field? Or Sleningford-by-the-sea?
A farmer’s field? Or Sleningford-by-the-sea?

But Nature has another face.  Come with me beyond the garden, past the fields slickly shimmering with surface water, to the banks of the River Ure.  Just two minutes walk from here, it makes a wide sweeping curve away from its route from West Tanfield, and (normally) meanders gently into Ripon. That was before this winter, this rain, this unending water.

Once the rains came, and once it reached town, the River Ure rather wanted to swamp people’s gardens and make a bid to enter their houses.  Recently-built flood defences put paid to that idea.  The River Ure took its revenge on us, or more specifically, on the farmer whose fields adjoin us.  Up in the hills, waters from streams and rivulets in the Dales cascaded into the Ure, which gushed and surged along its course, rising higher and higher, tearing at the banks, ingesting great clods of earth and forcing them downstream.  The water levels are falling now.  The damage remains.

The River Ure seizes the land.
The River Ure seizes the land.

Look.  Here’s a chain link fence which marks  a pathway running along the edge of the farmer’s field.  It should be on terra firma, with a nice grassy margin between the fence itself and the river bank.  Now it has nothing to hold onto.  The bank has been snatched away, and the fence is hanging crazily and directly over the swelling waters below.  The earth has slipped, and continues to slip.  The farmer is losing his field, and the river is changing course.  There’s not much anybody can do about it.

We’ll watch the water awhile, and frighten ourselves witless at the prospect of falling in and being swept mercilessly away. Then we’ll wander back though the woods, and enjoy the snowdrops and aconites once more.  Nature takes its course.

The steps through the woods.
The steps through the woods.

A post for a fellow-blogger.

I’m at university this week. The University of Blogging. This seat of learning, which has no rector, no library and confers no degrees, runs a programme regularly hosted by WordPress,and aims to bring together people who from all over the world, keen to hone their writing and presentation skills, and to help each other to Write a Better Blog.

Today’s assignment:  
Publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read.
I’ve chosen to write for one of you.  We haven’t met. We don’t live on the same continent.  But we’re ‘blogging friends’ who enjoy one another’s posts and often say so. You say you like the posts I write about walking in the Yorkshire Dales.  I like the posts in which you too describe your walks, often more extensive than mine, taking place over several days. You stride beside me – virtually of course – as I tramp along the leaf mould paths of a dappled English woodland.   I stop to gaze across the green and undulating hills  at the lattice work of ancient fields, divided by drystone walls, and share the view with you courtesy of my camera.
Except… I haven’t.  Not lately.  Those floods I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are an ever-present danger to some.  And even for those who haven’t had flooded homes  to contend with, the weekly rhythm has changed.  Walking is quite simply not on.  The other day, fed up with the lack of exercise, I took myself off to walk along country roads instead.  I’d not been going ten minutes when I met a deep trough as wide as the road, as deep as my ankles, and as long as… well, I don’t know.  It went beyond the next bend, anyhow, and I went home.  The fields are home to seagulls who bob about on the choppy waters.  The paths are streams.  The streams are rivers.  And the rivers are seas.
i) Quiz question: which is the path, and which the brook?
ii) This, I’m afraid, is a path.
iii) Brian-from-Bolton simply can’t stand getting his paws muddy.  He’s urging me home – NOW.
But I’m keen to get out and about again as soon as I can.  And I hope you’ll come with me, in a virtual sort of way, when I report back.
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A typical field. And not half as bad as some.

Flood

December in the north of England has been the month of the flood. Until Boxing Day, it was Cumbria that saw all the action, with some communities flooded out not once, not twice, but three times.  They were told to stand by for more on Boxing Day.  They readied themselves…. and nothing happened, because the torrential rains prophesied swept south and east of them, firstly into Lancashire, and then Yorkshire

We were staying with my daughter’s family in that part of Greater Manchester that used to be in Lancashire.  They live near a Nature Reserve through which Bradshaw Brook passes.  I’d say ‘flows’, but such a phrase is normally far too active a description for this narrow little watercourse.

This was Bradshaw Brook yesterday.

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Bradshaw Brook, Boxing Day 2015

We were due to travel home from their house to ours, in Yorkshire.  Highways England, the BBC, and motoring organisations all had conflicting information on their websites.  But they all agreed that our usual route, a scenic drive over the Pennines, was largely impassable.

It would have to be the motorway.  Longer, duller, but surer.  We’d not long been travelling when we noticed that traffic on the other carriageway was at a complete standstill, for miles…and miles.  It was only when we got home that we found out that a 20′ sinkhole had opened up near Rochdale.  So much for safer-by-motorway…..

Where to leave the motorway though, for the final few miles home?  There were floods in Leeds, floods near Harrogate – there were sure to be floods in Boroughbridge too.  What about Knaresborough?  It turned out there were floods near there too, as we discovered when warning notices turned us back on the road we’d come on, and sent us back by several miles to look for another route.  Familiar fields had turned into lakes, deep and almost unfordable road-side puddles were unavoidable.

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This doesn’t look too bad. Trust me. It’s deep.

We’re lucky.  We were flood-tourists on our journey home, gawping at rivers-become-seas, and roads-become-rivers.  Our home wasn’t flooded, nor will it be.  Others aren’t so fortunate.  They’re either contemplating the devastation of their own home or business – or both, or anxiously shoring up the front door with as many sandbags as they can lay their hands on, in anticipation of the days ahead, when the forecast continues to be grim.  We could all do with a bit of an old-fashioned winter cold snap, with a touch of frost, but positively no rain.

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You see that bridge, centre left? That’s a bridge over the River Ure, in Ripon. This lake in the foreground is not a lake, but open ground at the edge of the city, favoured by dog-walkers and children.